Norma Jean Said Yes
What can I say about that first date? My heart was pounding so hard I thought surely it would burst when I got to Norma Jean's door. She greeted me with her usual warm smile and asked me to come in.
After the requisite formalities of saying hello to everyone and making some polite small talk, Norma said we'd better hurry or we'd miss the start of the movie. Her dad smiled and told us to have a good time, but her mom couldn't hide a rather worried look as she forced a smile and sent us on our way.
Norma, however, seemed quite composed and one would never guess this was her first date. She gave me another one of those smiles that nearly turned my knees to butter, and I began to think this must all be a dream and surely I'd wake up any minute now with only one desire — to have the dream all over again.
I wanted to take her hand, but didn't know the protocol for touching on a first date. But when we got the green light to cross Santa Monica Blvd. she took my hand and held it all the way across. Now I was sure I must be dreaming.
I don't remember what double-feature we saw (and I probably couldn't have told you much about it the next day). All I knew was I had asked Norma Jean to the movies and she had said yes.
After the show we had some ice cream at the soda fountain next door to the theater. Then there was the wonderful walk back to her house where we held hands all the way. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven — it was delicious — and the adventure would be repeated several times during the next few months.
I Even Went to Church with Norma Jean one Sunday.
Norma Jean normally went with her parents each week, but when I said I'd like to go with her some time, she arranged for the two of us to go to a different mass, knowing I'd prefer being alone with her.
However I had never been in a Catholic church before. (In fact I don't think I'd been in any church since the ill-fated trip home from a Christian Science church one day when I was nine. But that's another story.)
Anyway, I had never heard of the "genuflect" (much less did I know anything about how or when to do it). But I found out very quickly. I'm sure my mouth must have been open as wide as my eyes as I gaped at the majestic stained glass windows, while following Norma down the aisle.
I was still looking up when she suddenly stopped and went down on one knee in front of me. I noticed her drop, but not soon enough to keep from tumbling over her. As I scrambled to try to keep my balance I saw the look in her eyes that said, "Oh my God — I forgot to tell him about the genuflect."
But that's not why I never went back. In those days the mass was done in Latin and I failed to find anything meaningful about it at all. Also, I had no clue as to when we were supposed to stand up or kneel or sit down or say something (much less what to say). I really wanted to like Norma's church, but could find nothing about it to like — except being with her.
But there was always the Campus Theater. And when I finally got brave enough to put my arm around her in the darkness of the theater, my fingers were only allowed to drift so far down the front of her sweater. At what seemed to me to be an unreasonably short distance my hand was sharply slapped, then lifted straight up and planted resolutely on her shoulder with a definitive action that clearly said, "Now keep it there, buster!"
But, I thought, maybe she'd let me kiss her goodnight. Kissing a girl goodnight at her front door was considered proper form in those days — but her porch light was always on — and so were the lights in the house.
However, on the fourth date her mom said we could stay out till 11:00. This was exciting news, and what made it even more exciting was that when we got back to the house, the lights were off.
Pesky Porch Light
But the darned porch light was still on. Nonetheless, Norma stood very close as she faced me with her eyes looking playfully into mine.
"Did you know there's a switch to that light over there?" she asked, pointing toward the door.
I didn't need a second hint.
I had the light off in a flash and her in my arms a second later. Not only did she let me kiss her, she kissed me right back.
Norma had these full lucious lips that I almost felt guilty about having all to myself just at that moment.
They were so wonderful and delicious that I was sure they were meant to be used for a lipstick commercial — or maybe to kiss some handsome film star in an epic movie someday (although I dismissed this thought as soon as it occurred to me). Anyway, now I really did feel like I had died and gone to heaven.
Yet there was more to life than the Campus Theater and kissing goodnight on the front porch. During the ensuing summer, we took the Santa Monica streetcar out to the amusement park on Lick Pier several times. My favorite thing had always been (and still is) riding the rollercoaster.
But Norma was afraid to go on it, although I tried every argument I could think of to change her mind.
Making Making My Day at Santa Monica's Ocean Park
Then one day, as we were waiting for the streetcar at the corner of Santa Monica and Vermont, she took my arm and held it very tightly as she said, "I have a surprise for you."
"What?" I asked in ecstatic anticipation.
"I've decided to go on the rollercoaster with you today."
"There is a God, after all," I was thinking, at the prospect of having her hold me tight as we careened down that first drop on the High Boy at Santa Monica's amusement pier.
But then she turned pale and pulled back as she caught sight of something across the street. "Or maybe I won't," she said with a sudden catch in her voice.
"Why — what's the matter?" I asked, as my dreams began to unravel on the spot.
"Take a look at the Campus," she said.
I turned and looked over at the Campus Theatre, the home of our first date and silent witness to countless hours of trying to find out just where I could put my hand without getting it slapped. A young man was climbing down a stepladder after having just placed the titles of this week's double-feature on the theater's marquee:
NOBODY LIVES FOREVER
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The irony of having those two titles send us off to the beach for Norma Jean's first roller-coaster ride was just too funny. In the end we were both laughing as we took one last glance over our shoulders at the ominous marquee while our streetcar lurched relentlessly westward.
Well, she did ride the rollercoaster that day, and held me even closer than I had dared dream.
She even went a second time. All I can say is that every young guy ought to experience the thrill
of getting a reluctant date to go on a rollercoaster with him for the first time.